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Massena High School grad gives lecture on forensics


MASSENA - Have you ever wondered just how those forensics experts on “Bones” and “CSI” do their work and how they are able to crack the case?

Kristy (Durant) Swan, a 1989 graduate of Massena High School, delivered a lecture this week in the Massena Public Library, discussing her work as a criminalist at the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory in Phoenix to give attendees the answers.

The 41 year old works with latent prints at the lab, while also instructing cadets in the collection of evidence and recording of major case prints at the Central Arizona Regional Law Officer Training Academy and the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy. She discussed everything from how old someone is when they first have a fingerprint to what specifically she enjoys about her job.

“By the time you hit 22 weeks, you have your fingerprints,” Ms. Swan explained. “(Fingerprints) don’t really change. The only time they will permanently change is if you have a scar.”

Ms. Swan grew up in Louisville and earned a degree in chemistry from SUNY Potsdam. Her work entails processing evidence and documenting any fingerprints she develops. She will then process the fingerprints, look for potential matches and do comparisons. Frequently though, she noted, the process is not as simple as one may see on television shows.

“In latent prints there are several things that can affect whether or not I can get an identification. There are the environmental factors, the condition of the actual item itself that I’m processing. So if it’s a nice smooth surface like glass or plastic or paper, those are all good surfaces to receive latent print residue. However, things like a cement block wall, because it’s not painted, it’s very rough. It’s not going to have the surface in order to leave a print that will probably leave enough information for me,” she said.

Additionally, what may happen to a print immediately after it is left is critical to whether they can identify whose print it is.

“The condition that the item is left in after it’s touched can affect whether or not I can get latent prints. For example, if the item is cleaned after it’s touched, then I’m probably not going to get latent prints off of it. If it’s left out in the rain, if it’s a very, very heavy rain, it can wash away that latent print residue,” she said.

Ms. Swan was also clear to point out that while her job is interesting and she enjoys it very much, it isn’t the investigative reporting and police work that some may believe she is involved with. However, she did state that she has appeared in court rooms on occasion.

“I’ve testified three times. Two of the times were in homicide cases. My favorite part though is identifying the unknown or the deceased,” Ms. Swan said.

She also talked about how even though some programs like CSI and NCIS aren’t entirely accurate, she will occasionally watch some of the crime shows.

“I used to watch those shows, but I would say it’s probably similar to a doctor or a nurse watching ER. It’s entertaining. I do enjoy watching Bones, because that is a similar type of show. But they don’t really do the same evidence processing we do. So, I get the entertainment factor, because I tend to focus on the things that really aren’t what we do and I get distracted. That’s just the little part of the scientist in me that likes everything sort of neat and orderly. So when it’s wrong, I focus on what’s wrong instead of relaxing and enjoying it,” Ms. Swan said.

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